Gag Writing – Just Say No

NotepadSaw this interview with gag writer Robert Rafferty and thought it was interesting.

I don’t personally use gag writers, although there are plenty of good cartoonists who do, but what struck me most in the interview was this bit of advice to folks looking to sell gags:

When it comes to gag writing, don’t do it. It is too hard to get started and the cartoonists that will usually look at gags have no sales record and you will spend a fortune on postage with no return. The cartoonists who are well established already have gag writers, so they don’t need them. I would not try to get into this business today. When I got into this it was fairly new. Unless you are very good and can come up with New Yorker-quality gags, one right after the other, you have no chance.


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3 thoughts on “Gag Writing – Just Say No”

  1. I don't use gag writers either, but a number of other cartoonists do. This really is kinda like an underground sorta thing. I mean, I've met a couple of guys who wrote for Charles Addams back in the day. I didn't know he had gag writers until I spoke with them. Gag writers are sort of an open secret. THE HOKINSON FESTIVAL, a collection of Helen Hokinson's New Yorker cartoons, is introduced by the man who wrote most of her gags. So, it's not like it's a secret. Thurber's THE YEARS WITH ROSS describes "tinkering," wherein a writer (usually White) would play around with a gag or sweeten it. Some of today's daily newspaper strip cartoonists use gag writers as well.

    Gag writers (at least for magazine gag cartoons) typically get 30% of the sale, and that means that you better know some good-selling cartoonists to make some decent $$$.

  2. I’ve tried working with writers and it wasn’t a great success, I think the old 10% (where you only sell around 10% of the cartoons you produce)rule still applies whether you write the punchlines or someone else does.

    Also, it’s not easy to tell writers to slow down with the ideas when you drop the cartoons to do other projects.

  3. In my case, having a gag writer (or two or three) helps me produce more cartoons than I would be able to by myself. That way I can mail more out each week and therefore (ideally) sell more.

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